15 Tips from Judy's Kitchen

This is not your usual list of hints, but a few favorites I'd like to share from my kitchen:

1. Clean the Can
If your can opener ever drops the lid into the can, or you use the lid to drain off liquid from the contents, be careful. Before opening the can, wash the top with dish soap, rinse and dry. This way you won't contaminate the contents.

2. Unbleached Paper Goods
If you use coffee filters or parchment paper, buy the unbleached versions. Just a small step to avoid toxins in your food. My supermarket sells the regular parchment with tin foil and plastic bags, an the unbleached version is sold with the baking goods like chocolate morsels - can't figure that one!

3. Dried Citrus Peel
If you are fortunate to grow your own citrus fruit or you buy organic, save the peel. It dries quickly on a paper towel laid on the counter. Once dried, I put orange, lemon, or lime peel through the coffee grinder, store in a spice jar, and use them as easy flavor enhancers for baked goods, salad dressings, etc. Best to use peel that doesn't have a thick white layer, since that part tastes bitter.

4. Foolproof pasta al dente:
Boil plain water in a big pot, then add your pasta. Stir until it returns to a boil, then cover and remove from the heat. Let it sit for the minimum amount of cooking time on the pasta box instructions. Drain. This always cooks pasta perfectly for me, and it conserves energy too.

5. Remove Sticky Labels
I've tried cooking oil and smelly commercial goo-remover, but the best sticky residue remover I have found is Citra-Solv concentrated cleaner, used undiluted. Smells good too.

6. Sweetening with Stevia
You can buy stevia powder as a sweetener much more readily these days, even in the supermarkets. I've always found it so concentrated that the tiny amount needed is hard to distribute with other ingredients. Now I use a small bottle which previously held hot sauce (very well cleaned out), so it has the plastic top with a slit that lets a few drops out at a time. I fill it with water and mix just a tiny amount of the super-sweet stevia powder. This makes it easy to shake a few drops into a not-quite-sweet-enough smoothie, which is just the right amount. It's also possible to grow stevia as an herb and dry the leaves yourself. I planted one, then harvested and air-dried the leaves on a frame with a screen attached, until the leaves were brittle. Then I powdered them in my designated coffee-grinder… still green, but super-sweet. My stevia plant came back the second year (still looking for growth this third year, after a cold winter). It grows in the mountains of South America, so I hope it is cold hardy enough for Tennessee.

7. Jar Lids
I love having home-canned pickles, jellies, and tomatoes, but I hate those 2-part metal lids and rings. After the jar has been opened over and over and in the fridge for a while, they can start to get rusty and messy. So upon opening the jars, I replace the lids with one-piece white plastic lids (saving the screw bands for future canning). These Ball storage lids come in the regular and wide-mouth jar sizes and are sold in a box of 8, often with canning supplies. They seem fairly indestructible, and clean in the dish washer. The standard threading also fits commercial glass jars that are sold with stuff like peanut butter or mayo, so you can recycle the jars with lids which won't rust in longterm storage as the metal lids can.

8. Rice Soak
'Ever get rice stuck to the pot after cooking? Just fill with water and let it soak overnight. The rice will absorb the water and should come unstuck by morning.

9. Crisp Celery
After washing celery, stand it on end to drain. When dry, wrap the whole bunch in tinfoil. Store in refrigerator veggie drawer. Stays crunchy until you've used it all!

10. Vacuum "Canning"
Speaking of canning, if you have a FoodSaver vacuum machine, they make a hose accessory (standard with some deluxe models, I think) which will vacuum seal a canning jar. This isn't to use for doing pickles or other standard water-bath processed canned goods; it's for longterm storage of items like nuts, spices, grains, dehydrated foods, bread crumbs, baking mixes, freezer jams, freshly milled flour, etc. If you are sealing a powdery substance, you can just put it into a plastic bag and twist closed, and put that into the jar before sealing… this way the vacuum won't suck up the powder while sealing the jar. Contents of jars which have been vacuum sealed are impervious to moisture and air, so storage life is extending beyond just screwing a lid on the container. The product can be used and the lid sealed again and again. This attachment is sold in either the regular or wide mouth standard jar size.

11. See What You Are Cleaning
I'm not fond of cleaning, but I like to do the best job possible for the time I invest. For cleaning in my dimly lit lower cabinets (even for the front of the lower cabinet doors and drawers) I don a miner's headlamp. It's amazing how much better you can see into those dark corners. These are readily available, in various brightness levels, at the camping section of superstores. Bonus Tips: we keep one of these headlamps at the back door for emergency trips outdoors in the night (sick dog, etc) and they are very helpful during power outages.

12. Powdering Sugar
I buy refined sugar only to make food for my hummingbird feeders, and I don't keep 10x confectioner's sugar on hand. When the need arises to sprinkled superfine sugar on some baked goods, it's very easy to make my own - just put regular granulated sugar in a clean coffee grinder and whirl until powdered.

13. Emergency Eggs
Occasionally I'll pull out a recipe for baked goods which calls for an egg, and I find i have none. Knocking on a neighbor's door is not a real good option in my rural setting, so I keep "Ener-G Foods Egg Replacer" on hand. It's a white powder, and just 1-1/2 tsp mixes with 2 T of water to substitute for one raw egg. With that small amount, the 16 oz. box lasts a long long time. It's good to use if you avoid eggs for allergy, vegan or other dietary reasons, since it's a non-egg product. Contains potato starch, tapioca, and other ingredients. I even once used it for one of the 3 eggs in a quiche and couldn't tell the difference from using 3 real eggs.
     A second handy dehydrated egg product is Deb El "Just Whites," which is a can of just dried egg whites, no additives or preservatives… add water and stir. I hate to through away one of my fresh free range yokes when a recipe calls for just the whites, like brushing egg white on bread before baking, so this is a handy alternative. The label says it can substitute for fresh egg whites in any recipe, and even has a Meringue Cookie recipe printed on the side.

14. Blanching Almonds
If your recipe calls for blanched almonds, and all you have are whole raw almonds, it's easier than you might think to blanche your own. Put the almonds in a bowl and add boiling water to cover. Drain after 1 minute and rinse with cold water. The skins will slip off between your fingers.

15. The Best Cleansers
In the cleaning aisle of the supermarket, look for "Bon Ami" cleanser. It is my favorite for scrubbing corning casseroles, cleaning my stainless steel sinks, getting coffee and tea stains out of mugs, cleaning the stovetop. It's made in the USA, cheap (mine was 89 cents for 14 oz.), is non-abrasive, and has no perfume, chlorine or dyes added. Web site says the main ingredients are the mineral feldspar (a gentle abrasive powder) and limestone (an even softer abrasive). I also like "Bar Keepers Friend" for similar uses, and for the shower stall and glass doors.

I hope you find these ideas helpful!